[REVIEW] Path of Exile

Developer: Grinding Gear Games
Publisher: Grinding Gear Games
Release: 2013 (PC) / 2017 (XBOX)
Platform: Windows, Steam, XBOX One
Genre: Action Roleplay / Dark Fantasy
OFLC Rating: MA15+

Why the hell wasn’t I playing this game earlier?!? Oh yeah! I was busy playing the Torchlight games back when I was bashing Blizzard over questionable game design and shonky business ethics used for Diablo III at that given time. But seriously, kudos the folks at Grinding Gear Games for making arguably one of the best action roleplaying experiences out there. Path of Exile takes a lot of cues from Diablo II in terms of it’s aesthetics and gameplay systems, then builds upon them and streamlines in all the right places. I actually got stuck into PoE with the XBOX One debut announcement (more or less) and was very curious as to how this plays in general along with comparing the experience between both versions of the game.
Path of Exile’s story is well told and like most good stories, there’s a theme to it. PoE’s setting captures an animosity to toward overzealous theocracy with an atmosphere that manages to combine both the Dark Ages and the Spanish Inquisition. Upon creating a character the story becomes ever-present when browsing the various characters you can play, as it describes each one like having their charges read before a court. Ultimately, the game’s story becomes a personal one for your character as they are exiled to the island of Wraeclast.

Technical

Path of Exile is presented in a three dimensional isometrical perspective, as you can play with the classical tilted top-down view (known to Diablo II players) or scroll the mouse wheel to drop down to a more of a third-person take of the perspective – However, this feature is only present in the original PC version of the game. Like Diablo II and the Torchlight games you can press a keybinding that toggles between two available slots for weapon sets. The XBOX version streamlines this by having a single weapon set and allowing for up to eight active skills by way of the right trigger acting as a shift function switching between two sets of four skills mapped to your controller’s right hand face buttons. Aside from small differences that counter-balance each other putting both games at parity – The clear deciding difference come down to whether or not you’re looking to play multiplayer without paying the console online subscription premium on top of what is essentially a free to play experience versus an overall more stable experience.

Gameplay

Playing Path of Exile, whether it’s a click-fest or an all-out button-mashing session makes little difference in to how the overall game looks and feels. Both versions play slightly different to each other, but maintain that core experience. PoE uses seven class-based characters that governed by three main attributes – Strength, governing brutal force and physical endurance. Dexterity, governing a character’s own agility. Intelligence, governing a character’s general magic ability. Three of the six character are each an epitome of the respective attributes, whereas the others are gradients in between. Like Diablo II, no given class is restricted to a given set of skills – Active skills are abilities you trigger at while, whereas passive skills are always active. Active skills come in the for of gems which become active upon slotting into the appropriate armour and weapon socks. Unlike Diablo II, you can remove gems as easily as you fitted them without the aid of a skill or NPC specialising in gem socketing. Gems gain experience points and levels in a strikingly similar fashion to how player characters do, making your active skills stronger and more spectacular. Passive skills are gain from spending skill points on the skill tree earned from levelling up your character. PoE’s characters use the same skill tree but start at different points, as the skill tree resembles a massive and complexed symmetrical board game circuit. Your characters’ experience levels are capped out at 100 allowing for a tonne or replay value, exploring all the different ways you can rebuild any given character. As you develop your character, the skill tree will resemble that of a path (if I had to take a wild guess, this somehow ties into the game’s title). A lot of experience players will provide new players with ideal “builds”, which are essentially a checklist of all the gems and equipment needed along with the roadmap for spending your skill points – That’s great, really. But! As someone who’s played enough RPGs, I will say this – Play to your character’s strengths and by the time you have your first one developed to a substantial degree, you will begin figure out which builds work for you and the given character you’re currently playing. Each character is essentially a starting point with a basic playstyle that varies from the others. Out of the box, these are the seven characters in a nutshell with their starting attributes.
The Marauder (Str: 32, Dex: 14, Int: 14), a portrait of brutality and ferocity this guy is tankiest of the bunch taking as much damage as he can dish out.
The Ranger (Str: 14, Dex: 32, Int: 14), is widely regarded for her sharp aim and reflexes making this mistress of the wilds an ideal choice for hit ’n run ranged combat.
The Witch (Str: 14, Dex: 14, Int: 32), is the obvious choice for those obsessed with magic and/or looking to unleash damage upon the masses with is little mistress of the dark arts.
The Templar (Str: 23, Dex: 14, Int: 23), is the “Ex-Cop” in a theocratic world gone mad who is the best of both brutal force and divine magic.
The Dualist (Str: 23, Dex: 23, Int: 14), is a master swordsman and clear-cut choice for those looking to play the nimble tank.
The Shadow (Str: 14, Dex: 23, Int: 23), this guy happens to be the rogue of the group who happens to be magically savvy as well making a nice choice for those looking to play guerrillas and assassins.
The Scion (Str: 20, Dex: 23, Int: 20), is the “Jill of All Trades” making her a highly versatile platform for any player. To create one of these you need have beaten the third act of the game.
Path of Exile plays very much like your classical ARPG from the 1990s – Take quests that send on a dungeon crawl. Kill monsters and/or bad guys. Get experience points for every kill. Collect loot from fallen foes. Go back to town, pick out any useful gear and sell the junk then repeat the whole sequence of events until you reach your characters peak where you’ll be laying waste to anything that so much as looks at you funny – Mind you, there’s a like more to it all but that’s the basic experience in a nutshell. Starting out in PoW can be quite the brutal experience, especially for newcomers. Once you’ve managed to find your feet playing a given character, a typical dungeon crawl will be a case you laying waste a crowd at a time. The aftermath will have the sizeable pockets of the dungeon floor covered with enough bodies to resemble a mass grave along with huge piles of loot that looks like another council pick-up season. In Path of Exile you will find NO shortage of loot, only that is random number generation that determines any given assortment – whether it’s a pile junk, a treasure trove or somewhere in between with a mass multitude of varying degrees. The biggest problem with this is not having enough inventory space to carry it all – Thankfully, you have a stash which is basically an all-purpose storage lock-up that can be accessed by any of your playable characters created on your account.

Path of Exile being a “Free to Play” title, how does Grinding Gear Games make their money off of this game???

Real easy! Rather than creating a play to win system responsible for the bulk the angst microtransactions have gotten over the years (and Dungeon Hunter franchise being a classical example of a free to play ARPG using such a business model), PoE’s microtransactions are used only for cosmetics, pets and account upgrades – In other words, if you’re obsessed with having the latest fashion and accessories for your characters you are playing your part in funding this game. If you’re into trading and/or hoarding, just want to stay better organised or have more slots on your account to facilitate a huge roster of playable characters you will also be funding PoE.
Given this is developed and published by an independent studio and the massive experience you get out of the box for FREE – you would expect to be buying a Triple-A release title being this good.

Overall, Path of Exile offers a game free to play experience with rich lore and deeply customisable gameplay with an ethical microtransation business model that offers some fair and (dare I say) appealing benefits you might actually want to pay for. Whether or not you spend any money on PoE, you getting an experience that rivals the big budget titles of the genre.

Final Thoughts

For a game that operates much like the PC version of Diablo III requiring an internet connection at all times to play, PoE pulls of this model so much better! The netcode is pretty fluid between 10 – 23 Mb/Sec and I’ve noticed the PC version tends to crash every now and again regardless of running under Windows or an emulated environment (eg: WINE, CrossOver Games, etc.). Being a Macintosh user I would highly recommend downloading the Porting Kit as there is an app-skin for PoE available that runs relatively smoothy despite crashing from time to time. Crashes aside, I have thoroughly enjoyed developing the Shadow I’ve been playing on both PC and XBOX versions.

So is Path of Exile worth it?

If you enjoy a solid action roleplaying experience with the freedom to craft playable characters to suit your playstyle and enough lore and storytelling that would rival a big budget production… The wait from downloading and patients with the online connectivity (not that they’re much to complain about, if at all) are well worth it. As for the microtransactions… If you plan to be playing this game a lot, outlaying money for designated resource stash tabs and stash capacity upgrades can be essential. In short, Path of Exile is an experience well worth your time and money!

Report Card

Quality: A
Gameplay: A
Content: A
Skill: A
Technical: B
Value: A
Audience: Adult

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